K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

Small farms in Otavalo, Ecuador

In Otavalo, Ecuador, the Andes mountains tower above small farms. (Photograph by Margery H. Freeman. More about the photograph)

Creating a “habit of learning”

Photo analysis activities have become an increasingly important part of my teaching. Students need to be given opportunities to analyze photographs, political cartoons, paintings, etc. to help them look at such media more critically. Visual analysis should not be done in isolation, but throughout the year in various units of study.

After introducing this learning tool and having students complete several photo analysis activities, students will begin to create a “habit of learning” and will look at things more critically and analytically on their own. Always encourage students to provide evidence for their observations just as you would in their essay writing and in-depth research.

Learn more

Related pages

  • Threads through South America: Weaving in Ecuador: This lesson for grade six takes a look at the weaving and textiles created in the Andes of Ecuador in and near the town of Otavalo. In addition to learning about Ecuadorian weaving, students may also create their own woven artifact.
  • Ecuador: A study of population: In this lesson, students will create population pyramid graphs and analyze photographs to investigate population in Ecuador. Students will draw on this analysis to make predictions about how population issues will affect Ecuador's future. The lesson plan is designed to be adapted to the study of various countries.
  • Ecuador: A land of climate diversity: In this lesson, students will create climate graphs and analyze photographs to investigate the various types of climate in Ecuador and the interactions between climate and human culture. The lesson plan is designed to be adapted to the study of various countries.

Related topics


Please read our disclaimer for lesson plans.


The text of this page is copyright ©2008. See terms of use. Images and other media may be licensed separately; see captions for more information and read the fine print.

In this lesson students will use photo analysis activities to analyze and discuss how the mountains of Western North Carolina compare and contrast with the mountain regions of Ecuador. This lesson is designed to be used with grade six, but may be adapted to higher elementary grades or even to seventh- and eighth-grade levels.

Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • develop visual literacy by learning to analyze photos.
  • compare and contrast life in the mountain areas of Western North Carolina and life in Ecuador, South America.
  • gain a better understanding of how terrain affects human and natural activities.
  • learn how common factors such as geography have similar effects on humans and human activities around the globe, despite cultural and political differences.

Teacher preparation

Time required for lesson

One to one-and-a-half class periods (approximately 60 to 90 minutes)

Materials needed

  • Images of Ecuador and images of North Carolina from LEARN NC’s multimedia collection
  • Two copies of photo analysis worksheet for each student
  • One copy of photo comparison worksheet for each student
  • Computer with internet connection
  • Multimedia projector (to project photos for comparing and contrasting)
  • Optional: PowerPoint software (to facilitate showing images individually and together for comparison)
  • Optional: Color copies of two photos as described in the lesson activities if a multimedia projector is not available


The activities in this lesson should be part of a larger study of South America.

Before the lesson:


  1. Provide each student with two copies of the photo analysis worksheet that accompanies this lesson and one copy of the photo comparison worksheet. One copy of the photo analysis work sheet will be used to analyze the photo of Ecuador, and the other will be used to analyze the photo of North Carolina. Questions on the photo comparison sheet will ask students to compare and contrast the two photos once they have studied both photos.
  2. Prep students for the lesson activity and the photo analysis process. Tap their prior knowledge by briefly and generally discussing mountains, mountain life, and the geography of Ecuador and North Carolina.
    • Have you ever visited a mountain area?
    • What plant and animal life did you see?
    • What was the weather like?
    • What types of human activity (farming, industry, etc.) were taking place?
    • What were the houses like?
  3. Choose two pictures of mountainous regions from the multimedia collection, one from North Carolina, and the other from Ecuador. You may or may not choose to reveal which photo is of Ecuador and which is from North Carolina. A fun side activity is to poll the class and discuss which photo is from which location and why they think so using evidence from the photos and their own prior knowledge.
  4. Project one photo at a time for students to study and complete the analysis. You may find it easier to manipulate the photos by putting them on a PowerPoint slide or interactive whiteboard when projecting them to the class. Give students approximately 15 minutes to study and answer the analysis questions for one photograph and 15 minutes for the other.
  5. After about 30 minutes, project both pictures simultaneously to allow students to compare and contrast. Again, creating a PowerPoint slide with both photos may be the easiest option for projecting both photos at one time. Allow for approximately 10 minutes to make comparisons and contrasts.
  6. Discussion: Discussing the photos with students is tremendously important. Do not end the activity without allowing students to explain their answers. Use the students’ observations and written responses as a springboard for class discussion. Do not limit yourself by just having students give a verbal answer to the questions on the analysis sheet. Use their answers as stimuli for further questioning that is not on the sheet. Consistently encourage students to support their answers with evidence from the photos.


You, the teacher, are the best judge of your students’ learning levels and abilities. Make students aware on what and how they will be graded.

Assess student responses and adjust questioning and activities as needed. Students can be graded on completeness of work and participation during discussion. You may also gauge students’ level of thinking and understanding of photographs through the photo analysis activities and the ability of students to completely and thoughtfully answer questions on various levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

It is encouraged to have students use photo analysis activities several times throughout the year to help students create a “habit of learning” on what to look for when analyzing photographs and documents.

Learning rubrics can be developed through Rubistar.


  • As stated in step three of the activities, you may opt to have students guess which photos are of North Carolina and which are of Ecuador. The activity may be further extended by incorporating photos from various other mountainous regions of the world, such as the Himalayas in Asia or the Alps in Europe. You may also choose photos of a different geographic region such as a coastal area or foothills region. With any of these optional extensions, encourage students to support their answers with evidence from the photos.
  • As part of your introduction to this lesson, you may want to point out some interesting facts about the height of mountains in Ecuador and North Carolina. For instance, Mt. Chimborazo (a volcano in Ecuador) stands at over 20,000 feet while Mt. Mitchell, the tallest peak in North Carolina, is 6,684 feet. Ecuador’s mountains, part of the Andes, have several peaks above 16,000 feet!

Modifications and alternative assessments

  • This activity may be modified to have students compare/contrast photos of totally different geographic regions such as the coast vs. the mountains.
  • For students with certain learning disabilities, you may opt to accept verbal responses rather than written responses for the analysis of photographs. You may also want to give students the captions for the photos to help guide them in their understanding of what they are seeing. Having students support their ideas with evidence from the photos is still encouraged.
  • You may opt for students to create a Venn Diagram to help them compare and contrast the photos.


  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Social Studies (2010)
      • Grade 7

        • 7.G.1 Understand how geography, demographic trends, and environmental conditions shape modern societies and regions. 7.G.1.1 Explain how environmental conditions and human response to those conditions influence modern societies and regions (e.g. natural barriers,...
        • 7.G.2 Apply the tools of a geographer to understand modern societies and regions. 7.G.2.1 Construct maps, charts, and graphs to explain data about geographic phenomena (e.g. migration patterns and population and resource distribution patterns). 7.G.2.2 Use...
      • Grade 8

        • 8.G.1 Understand the geographic factors that influenced North Carolina and the United States. 8.G.1.1 Explain how location and place have presented opportunities and challenges for the movement of people, goods, and ideas in North Carolina and the United States....

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 6

  • Goal 1: The learner will use language to express individual perspectives drawn from personal or related experience.
    • Objective 1.02: Explore expressive materials that are read, heard, and viewed by:
      • monitoring comprehension for understanding of what is read, heard, and/or viewed.
      • analyzing the characteristics of expressive works.
      • determining the effect of literary devices and/or strategies on the reader/viewer/listener.
      • making connections between works, self and related topics.
      • comparing and/or contrasting information.
      • drawing inferences and/or conclusions.
      • determining the main idea and/or significance of events.
      • generating a learning log or journal.
      • creating an artistic interpretation that connects self to the work.
      • discussing books/media formally and informally.

Social Studies (2003)

Grade 6

  • Goal 1: The learner will use the five themes of geography and geographic tools to answer geographic questions and analyze geographic concepts.
    • Objective 1.02: Generate, interpret, and manipulate information from tools such as maps, globes,charts, graphs, databases, and models to pose and answer questions about space and place, environment and society, and spatial dynamics and connections.
  • Goal 2: The learner will assess the relationship between physical environment and cultural characteristics of selected societies and regions of South America and Europe.
    • Objective 2.01: Identify key physical characteristics such as land forms, water forms, and climate,and evaluate their influence on the development of cultures in selected South American and European regions.
  • Goal 3: The learner will analyze the impact of interactions between humans and their physical environments in South America and Europe.
    • Objective 3.01: Identify ways in which people of selected areas in South America and Europe have used, altered, and adapted to their environments in order to meet their needs, and evaluate the impact of their actions on the development of cultures and regions.
  • Goal 11: The learner will recognize the common characteristics of different cultures in South America and Europe.
    • Objective 11.02: Examine the basic needs and wants of all human beings and assess the influence of factors such as environment, values and beliefs in creating different cultural responses.